For the inaugural entry in our brand new PledgeMusic Emerging Artist Spotlight series, we’re highlighting New York-based singer-songwriter Mackenzie Shivers. Shivers currently has a PledgeMusic campaign going for her sophomore album The Unkindness, so we took the opportunity to get to know a little more about her new album, her songwriting influences, and the trio of releases she currently has available for stream/download on our site.
Find out more about her PledgeMusic campaign for The Unkindness here: https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/mackenzieshivers
NoiseTrade: You’re currently in the midst of a PledgeMusic campaign for your forthcoming second full length album, which you’ve titled The Unkindness. Tell us a little about what listeners can expect to hear on this album and why you’ve chosen to partner with PledgeMusic.
Mackenzie Shivers: The Unkindness serves as a hymnal of catharsis. The songs were written during a time that contained a lot of pain – both in my personal life and in the world. It’s real and raw and I hope it serves as a message of unity and healing. Piano, bass, and drums serve as the backbone and they dance with pedal steel, strings, vocal harmonies, and horns throughout the album.
This is my first time partnering with PledgeMusic and I’m so excited. It used to be that getting a record deal was the way to release an album. The industry is changing so quickly and I’ve heard arguments that full albums shouldn’t even be made anymore because that’s not how listeners digest music and they’re too expensive to make. But I personally don’t want to live in a world where albums no longer exist! PledgeMusic allows me to independently release this album while engaging with fans and creating my own store that helps make it possible to distribute and promote the record. We’re all doing it together and we’re keeping albums alive!
NT: One of the featured items in your PledgeMusic pre-order options is an ampersand t-shirt that lists: Ravens & Tears & Phoenix & Mr. Jones & The Unkindness. Connect those dots for us as they relate to your new album.
Shivers: They’re song titles from the album. Except that Tears is actually “Tears to Keep Me Warm” and it will be the second single off the album.
NT: Your songwriting blends together classical composers like Philip Glass and Claude Debussy with confessional artists like Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell and melodic pop songwriters like Elton John and The Beatles. Can you trace your musical journey for us through some of your biggest milestone artists and albums?
Shivers: I grew up taking classical piano, so Debussy was in my repertoire and always one of my favorites to play. Glass was someone I was introduced to in college, and I still listen to him for inspiration. I love the hypnotic quality of his writing. The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Elton John were all on heavy rotation at my house growing up.
I remember being in my early teens and sitting down at the piano to play “Grey Seal.” My mom came in from the kitchen and was like “Is that Elton John?!” I would pick his songs up by ear and the piano parts were so fun to play. I went to see him in concert when I was in 8th grade, and I will never forget sobbing when he started playing. I thought, “this is what I want to do.”
Right before I went to college is when I really fell in love with Tori Amos and that’s also when I started songwriting. It’s no coincidence that this is also the first time I fell in love and got my heart broken! I remember listening to Scarlet’s Walk over and over on my iPod. I connected with her a lot – the classical piano training, the red hair! I felt like Tori was giving me permission to cross over into pop-rock writing while still keeping that classical influence and training.
Joni Mitchell is who inspired me to start writing again after taking a three year hiatus. I was reading the book Girls Like Us about Joni, Carole King, and Carly Simon. It was like I was discovering Joni’s music all over again. I felt this itch to start writing again, and I began writing the songs that would make up my first album Neverland. Music school drained me a bit and when I moved to New York I didn’t think I was going to pursue music. Joni is a big part of why that changed.
NT: For those who are interested in digging deeper into your catalog, you’ve got a trio of releases up on our site right now: Ravens EP, Living in My Head EP, and your full-length Neverland album. What will listeners hear on these releases, both individually and collectively as an arc to your creative output?
Shivers: When I recorded Neverland, I had never been in the studio before. I didn’t know what overdubs were and I didn’t know the musicians playing on the record. They were fabulous! But production wise, I was pretty removed. I really love some of the songs on that album (“Below the Meadow” and “Love Her with Freedom” in particular) and the instrumentation we used (pedal steel, cello, upright bass). But on Living in My Head EP, I was more involved with the sound and who worked on the album. The sound was fuller and the songs were more uptempo. By the time we recorded Ravens EP, I had garnered a big interest in recording and worked with Cody Rahn on creating a sound that was mostly done live, like the listener is in the room with us and I’m basically singing in your ear.
The writing on all these projects stays pretty confessional. My goal with The Unkindness was to keep that raw energy and convey the emotions as authentically as possible. How do we tell the story the best? Does it mean editing out a musical interlude? Does it mean extending the coda? Cody and I worked as co-producers on this album, so I was more involved than I’ve ever been in how the songs were recorded and with the overall sound. You can hear pieces of my first three projects in this one, but I think this album is a big step forward for me.
NT: Finally, you’ve got an incredibly moving cover of the old folk traditional “The Parting Glass” that closes out Ravens. With so many beautiful versions already out there (The Pogues, Glen Hansard, Sinead O’Conner, The Wailin’ Jennys), what inspired your stirring take on it and do you have a favorite version done by any other artist?
Shivers: Thank you, I’m so glad you like it! I love old traditionals – Irish and Scottish in particular – and this arrangement is one that I had been sitting on for a couple years. I just sat down at the piano one day and started to sing it, and my fingers sort of followed along at the piano, immediately forming the arrangement you hear on the EP. We did it in two takes in the studio with the piano and vocal recorded live together. The song makes me feel really nostalgic and I wanted to evoke a sort of melancholy without being morose. The Wailin’ Jennys album was the first time I recall hearing “The Parting Glass,” so I’m a bit partial to their version.